I have a lot in common with Vance. We are roughly the same age. We both grew up poor hillbillies. We both had a beloved older sister. One set of grandparents was very important to both our lives. We would both go on to attend an elite law school and marry a good woman.
There is also a fair amount we don’t have in common. Unlike Vance, I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains proper. Unlike Vance, I grew up in a stable, two-parent home.
Unlike the vast majority of people who have written about Hillbilly Elegy, I visited Jackson, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio. Vance’s grandparents left their home in Jackson to go to Middletown for work. Vance grew up in Middletown taking frequent trips back home to Jackson to see family. It wasn’t that onerous for me. I drive through Ohio and Kentucky several times a year trekking between the place I live in the Rust Belt and my home in Appalachia. Oddly enough, that drive takes me the same amount of time as the drive between Middletown and Jackson took Vance’s grandparents (roads have improved considerably in the interim). I took an unplanned trip home without the wife and baby this summer after my mom fell and broke her hip, so I took the scenic route on the way back and very briefly visited Jackson and Middletown. Interspersed throughout my post are pictures from that trip.
Continue reading “Nonfiction: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance”